The Florida Keys sit on the southern-most tip of Florida, reaching out into the Gulf of Mexico towards Cuba. Comprising over 100 islands, all surrounded by beautiful coral and tropical plant life, this is a true paradise for all holidaymakers.
The main destination for those visiting and living in the Florida Keys is Key West, a city which houses almost a third of all the region’s residents. This is where you’ll find many of the main attractions, resorts and entertainment venues – but the rest of the area is full of just as many treasures, and you may be surprised by what we’ve found for you.
Make sure you see the very best and most beautiful places with our guide to the secret spots and hidden haunts that make the Florida Keys the ideal destination for a holiday in the Sunshine State.
The Florida Keys is an archipelago of over 1,700 islands. Most of these are simply small points of exposed coral, but there are also a number of different islands to visit while you’re in the area, so make sure you hop on a ferry and get exploring!
Where to eat
You’ve probably guessed by now that the dish of the day in the Florida Keys is usually seafood – but thankfully for those with a varied palate, there are a number of fantastic hotspots for food and drink across the islands.
Key West, as the biggest city, is the most diverse, and hosts a large number of little-known restaurants and cafes that can’t be missed. If you do tire of seafood, head into the residential side streets and hunt down El Siboney on Catherine Street, a fantastic, family-run Cuban restaurant offering roast pork, barbecued steaks and plenty of classic Cuban side dishes.
Elsewhere in Key West, Marathon City on the Vaca Key island is a popular choice for fishing, and you’ve got an advantage here in that many of the restaurants will offer to “cook your catch” – guaranteeing you seriously fresh fish without any of the washing up! Stone crab claws are also a top-notch option on Vaca Key, both in fancy restaurants and as a fast food option, so shun the burger and eat like the locals.
- El Siboney, 900 Catherine Street, Key West
- Lazy Days South, 725 11th Street Ocean, Marathon
Where to shop
There’s actually quite a limited selection of shops in the Florida Keys; even in Key West, the designer shops and boutiques found in the rest of Florida are noticeably absent – although what you will find is smaller clothes stores, gift shops, tattoo parlours and beachwear outlets.
This is a destination for beach lovers, and dedicated shoppers would be better off heading out on a day trip to Miami – but if you’re looking for something quirky and different, all is not lost. Take a ferry to the “village of islands” Islamorada and visit Robbie’s Marina, where you’ll find independent stalls and tents selling artwork, jewellery and handmade clothes. You’ll also find a number of ceramics and ornaments in the small shops dotted along Route 1, if you feel like exploring the island further.
- Wanderlust KW, 310 Petronia Street, Key West
- Robbie’s Marina, 77522 Overseas Highway, Islamorada
Where to party
Most of the partying in Florida Keys takes place of Key West’s Duval Street, where you’ll find plenty of watering holes from the cheap and cheerful to the upmarket and elegant.Â It’s a cliche, but you should visit Captain Tony’s Saloon at least once during your trip; this bar is the old watering hole of writer Ernest Hemingway, and considered a historical landmark by the locals. Of course, this bar – and the whole area – is likely to be expensive and packed with tourists, so you may want to consider a quieter drink in a different part of the Keys if you want to relax away from the crowds.
Where you go depends on the kind of night you’re looking for. If you want to chill out and reminisce on the day’s water sports, there’s nowhere better than the tiki bars on the beachside of Islamorada, while around Big Pine Key you’ll find taverns, sports bars and dives for those who want the real American bar experience.
- Captain Tony’s Saloon, 428 Greene Street, Key West
- Looe Key Tiki Bar, 27340 Overseas Hwy, Ramrod Key
Where to go
The Florida Keys boast some of the most beautiful natural spaces in the Sunshine State, from the beaches and coral marine environment to the nature reserves on the many islands. You’ll also see a wealth of wildlife. A good place to start is the McCoy Indigenous Park, which houses a rescue centre for local wildlife. Many people enjoy exploring the park, but the rescue centre itself is also worth visiting to see the local species up close.
On Marathon, you’ll find even more – there’s a turtle hospital here, which is exactly as adorable as it sounds, a dolphin research centre, and the Crane Point Museum, dedicated to the native inhabitants and animals of the islands, complete with artificial coral reef to explore. If you’re looking for more than a holiday of lying on the sand, this is the perfect way to make sure you still soak up those rays.
Before you go on any walking or hiking excursion – and there are many – it’s well worth dropping into the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. This education exhibition centre offers a wealth of information about the ecosystem of the Keys, in a way that makes it fun and accessible to all ages. This will give you and the kids plenty to look out for when you start exploring, so don’t miss it.
Finally, head to Islamorada in the evening to watch the sun go down over the surrounding islands. The Islamorada Fish Company restaurant is a good place to sit, as from here you can watch the shark feeding as the sun sets – the perfect way to finish up a day in the Keys.